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Some highlights from CSCW 2010

Applying the One Percent Doctrine to Climate Change

Onepercentdoctrine_cover I remember hearing an NPR Fresh Air interview with Ron Suskind, author of The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of It's Enemies Since 9/11, shortly after the book came out in 2006, in which he explained that the title came from a statement made by [then] Vice President Dick Cheney about the Bush Administration's pre-emptive policy for "low-probability, high-impact events":

If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.

[Excerpted from an interview with Suskind in Time, The Untold Story of al-Qaeda's Plot to Attack the Subway]

Next-hundred-million-joel-kotkin Last week, I was listening to an interview on KUOW's The Conversation with Joel Kotkin, author of The Next 100 Million: America in 2050. In contrast - if not contradiction - to the negative impacts of continued population growth articulated by many people and organizations, Kotkin predicts that the anticipated population increase of the next 100 million people in the United States will be a net gain, adding to our diversity, competitiveness and overall economic strength. When host Ross Reynolds asked him about the impact of population growth on climate change, Kotkin revealed that he is a climate change skeptic (along with 40% of the American public), and expressed doubt about the likelihood that humans, especially those in high resource consumption countries like the United States, have a significant impact on climate change.

ThereYouGoAgain During part two of the interview, one caller asked about Kotkin's views on adopting a population-control policy, noting the growth in energy use per capita. Kotkin - reciting a refrain of "I've seen this movie before" [reminiscent of Ronald Reagan's famous catchphrase, "there you go again", in his cheerfully derisive dismissal of Jimmy Carter's compelling articulation of a national health plan during the 1980 U.S. Presidential debate] - talked about earlier reports of impending crises - or what he calls variations of "an environmental apocalypse" -  that did not come to pass, and then deftly switched the metric by stating that energy use per GDP was declining. Anyone who has read David Korten's book, Agenda for a New Economy, or Doug Rushkoff's book, Life, Incorporated, may be a GDP-skeptic, and question whether GDP is an appropriate metric for assessing the health of the economy ... much less the environment.

Another caller, who identified himself as Billy, from Seattle's Ravenna neighborhood, posed a particularly penetrating and provocative question (the one that sparked this post):

If the scientists are wrong and we act on their prescriptions, then we'll spend a lot of money on green technology, and maybe we'll blight a lot of landscapes with windmills. But really, in the worst case, we're talking about wasting a lot of money.

But if he [Kotkin] is wrong, and we act on his prescriptions, then we are facing - potentially - a disaster. It's not like climate change in the past that happened gradually. We're talking about very quick and rapid changes.

So, to me, if there's a 10% - even a 5% - chance that the scientists are right, dealing with that [climate change], as difficult as it is, really seems like the prudent thing to do.

Kotkin replied that he supports making some changes, but that they should be less drastic and be primarily motivated by clear and present dangers, such as reducing dirty air or enhancing our national security by reducing dependence on foreign oil. This is ironic on at least two levels. From what I understand, Kotkin considers himself a futurist (and indeed, the title of his book is future-oriented), so it's interesting that he is promoting a more "presentist" perspective. Secondly, his emphasis on national security brings to mind Cheney's earlier dictum about the unacceptability of even the slightest risk of another devastating terrorist attack.

I wonder how many climate change skeptics accept - or champion - the One Percent Doctrine with respect to the risk of terrorism ... and what percentage of risk of environmental apocalypse they would find acceptable. Kotkin argues that earlier religious fundamentalists' warnings of an apocalypse have been largely supplanted by "hysterical" warnings of environmental apocalypse, but I do wonder whether religious fundamentalists - Christian and Muslim - may still be more drawn to visions of a more "traditional" version of apocalypse these days.

Continuing with the theme of fundamentalism, but returning to the terrorism domain, in a recent PBS Newshour segment on Biden and Cheney Clash Over Terror Trial Policy, CSIS Senior Adviser Juan Carlos Zarate, who served the Bush administration as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism from 2005 to 2009, argued that we are seeing a "fundamental continuity in our counterterrorism policies". Georgetown University Law Professor David Cole countered that we are seeing a continuity in the war(s), but significant shifts in policy, especially with respect to policy decisions to operate "within the frame of the rule of law".

I'm not sure what the Obama administration's position is on the One Percent Doctrine with respect to terrorism, and I'm increasingly unsure about what their position is with respect to the environment. The announcement last week of Obama's upport for nuclear power, coupled with proposals to expand clean energy sources and assign a cost to the polluting emissions of fossil fuels, represents the latest attempt to find common ground and pursue a middle way. However, I wonder if greater progress can be made by adopting what some may consider a more extremist position, and apply the One Percent Doctrine to the risks of climate change.

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